No trumpets blasting, no choirs of angels proclaiming spiritual victory—in fact, it was absolutely silent. But the spirit of high celebration was there. And plenty of golden cosmic light, which more than made up for the darkness of winter solstice. And bliss. Words fail to describe it. Bliss with no boundaries, no beginning or end. Bliss penetrating everything, saturating the whole universe with consciousness and life eternal. The awareness, the certainty of the relatedness and unity of all creation.
I came to the Buddha’s teaching for the knowledge, and stayed for the bliss. In fact, I became a monk. But at first, I just wanted to know what happened to me back in 1984, when I first experienced nibbāna. It was more or less an accident. I had no real idea what I was doing; I just had a couple months of spare time and wanted to check out silent meditation. I had no big expectations of tasting enlightenment.
So I piled up some cushions on a rug in an empty room in my apartment and began.
At first I just sat there and did nothing. I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for, so I just watched. I saw lots of thoughts go by. I saw the instability of the mind, the capriciousness of the heart. I watched my chest and belly rise and fall, felt my heartbeat pulse through my veins. I heard weird high-pitched noises in my head. I found places in myself I had forgotten about since childhood: my joy, my terror, my dreams, the richness of inner experience contrasting with the abyss of boredom and meaninglessness that is modern life.
Through it all, I sat and waited. After a while, I started noticing the energy building. Some lights started flashing here and there, brilliant white and blue. Was there a message in it? What was it trying to tell me? I started reading an obscure Chinese text, The Secret of the Golden Flower. Gradually I began to follow its instructions.
As the days passed, I lengthened my sitting. I never could sit more than 20–30 minutes before my legs got numb. The discomfort disturbed my concentration, so I would get up and stretch. I got into a routine of sitting for 25 minutes, taking a five-minute break, and sitting down again. I found I could continue this more or less all day—so I did.
I built up my practice from four hours a day to eight, and more. I started seeing serious lights, animated and brighter than the sun. I started to feel less physical desire, more happiness and energy. If I wrote down the insights that flooded my mind, minute by minute, this would turn into a thick book. There’s no need; what I am today is nothing but the sum total of those insights.
After several weeks of this, I had become extraordinarily sensitive to energy. I could feel when others were in my apartment building, even if I couldn’t see or hear them. I could sense when friends wanted to talk to me—so I called them. “Hey Dude, I was just thinking about you, and you called.” “Yes, I know.” It freaked them out a little at first.
My concentration was already good from years of musical training and chanting mantras. But with this practice it reached new heights. I found I could maintain good solid concentration even in crowded places, or in a moving vehicle. I found that concentration is a pleasure in itself—a concentrated mind is automatically full of happiness. The feedback loop of consciousness contemplating itself generates a strong sensation of well-being.
My sense of time changed radically. A sitting of four hours seemed to slide by effortlessly. My mind meditated on itself while I stood by and watched, blissed out. I thought, “Why do people waste their time and energy chasing pleasure when all that’s necessary for happiness is to sit and concentrate?” I guess it depends on how you define ‘happiness.’
One day after after about six weeks of this practice, it happened. I had taken a break to eat lunch—just some simple oriental noodles—and suddenly I could feel a presence. There was someone in my apartment. I checked everything but the door was locked, and no one was there. Then there was a soft tap on my third eye…
…the top of my head opened up like an observatory dome, and the world was filled with golden bliss. A tide of luminous energy penetrated everything. A living, pulsating conscious radiance, even in the trees, rocks and bricks of my apartment building. The ecstatic experience lasted all day. It was still there the next morning too. That’s how I knew it was real enlightenment, and not just a mental state.
Over the next weeks and months, the ecstatic experience gradually faded. I held a retreat where I tried to share it with my friends, and failed spectacularly. I had to conclude that I didn’t really know what happened to me, or why. The concentrated effort to find out has taken almost thirty years, but now I finally understand.
What I experienced was just a taste of full enlightenment called ‘stream entry.’ If I had a qualified teacher and better association, I would have been able to maintain and even expand the state. I didn’t have that opportunity, but you do. You can study and practice the Dharmasar Solution and attain the same experience.